Mary Ann Hall (died January 29, 1886) ran a successful brothel from the 1840s until about 1878 at 349 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, D.C., about four blocks west of the U.S. Capitol. Before the National Museum of the American Indian was built on the site in 1999, the Smithsonian Institution conducted an archeological excavation of the foundations and garbage dump of the house.
The expensive tableware in the garbage dump was made of ironstone and porcelain. Food remnants include meat, fowl, fish, and exotic fruits like coconuts and berries. French champagne corks were especially numerous. She built a three-story house on the site which rose greatly in value. Her business was apparently very successful and she died with a net worth of $87,000 - worth over $2,000,000 in 2005 dollars.
In 1864 the Union Army's Provost Marshal published a list of brothels in Washington and Mary Ann Hall's had 18 "inmates," making it the largest in the city.
She was buried with her sister and other family members under "large and dignified" memorials at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Archeology Find: Capital's Best Little Brothel
By FRANCIS X. CLINES, New York Times
WASHINGTON, April 17— Enough of ''Monica's Story.'' Archeologists digging in the Mall have happened upon the historically tantalizing story of Mary Ann Hall, a determined 20-something who built and managed one of this city's finest 19th-century bordellos.
The three-story brick house of the entrepreneurial Ms. Hall flourished for four decades just down from Capitol Hill -- a monument, in its way, to capital power and sex but also to a level of discretion that seems rare in modern Washington.
''She was obviously a successful, independent woman and she clearly maintained connections throughout her life,'' Donna J. Seifert, an archeologist who unearthed the dregs of Ms. Hall's brothel -- champagne bottles and gilt dinnerware shards -- said in a recent interview. It is now a grassy stretch of the Mall where the Smithsonian Institution's new National Museum of the American Indian is to be built beginning in September, immediately east of the Air and Space Museum.
''Unfortunately we never found her little black book,'' said Elizabeth Barthold O'Brien, an archeology historian, who also worked on the dig three years ago and co-wrote an archeological report with Ms. Seifert that amounts to a new chapter in the underlife of historic Washington.
Without impeaching a soul in retrospect, Ms. O'Brien and Ms. Seifert documented through city and court records Ms. Hall's place in Washington life and how she profited elegantly near the Capitol in an era when lawmakers lived more of the bachelor's life and the lobbying arts included what historians say were the services of prostitutes.
It was a moralizing era, as ever in Washington, but Ms. Hall and her employees never came close to entry on the police blotter, even as hundreds of streetwalkers and prostitutes in shoddier houses were written up routinely as nuisances, despite the legality of prostitution. Rather, Ms. O'Brien found Ms. Hall listed on city records as an upstanding taxpayer as her property value compounded over the years.
The doughty madam stood out as the rare woman who became wealthy across the go-go years of the Civil War. Far from any whiff of Brothelgate, she succeeded scandal-free at a time before houses of prostitution were banned here in 1914 in a wave of civic righteousness.
''Mary Hall was the antithesis of all the moralizing warnings of her day,'' Ms. O'Brien said. ''She lived a long life, made a lot of money, and left a gorgeous grave.'' Her towering stone memorial in the once-rural Congressional Cemetery, a mile southeast of the Capitol, and just down from a phalanx of smaller stones of departed lawmakers, depicts a beautiful young woman wistfully pondering life's passage.
''I pored over tons of documents, but Mary Hall remains a mystery,'' said Ms. O'Brien, speaking of such unanswered questions as how the young woman found the money and pluck for her enterprise.
The two researchers tracked a good deal of lost information but found no photograph of Ms. Hall. She maintained a classic ''parlor house,'' their report concludes, a sanctuary where ''men of wealth and distinction'' were wined, dined and sexually served by women ''noted for their youth, beauty and social refinement.''
Ultimately, Ms. Hall rented her property to a women's health clinic in her retirement years, about 10 years before she died. This was when prominent Washington women had begun crusading openly in behalf of their ''fallen sisters.''
''Respectable women bravely introduced Washingtonians to the novel concept that some women turned to prostitution by necessity rather than choice,'' the archeology report notes of days when cities were largely devoid of economic opportunities for single women.
Ms. Hall's death in 1886 at the age of 71 brought on a court fight by siblings over her fortune and an obituary in The Washington Evening Star that praised her civic integrity and ''a heart ever open to appeals of distress.'' Finding the old litigation record, Ms. O'Brien discovered the contents of Ms. Hall's top-of-the-line brothel, from expensive Brussels carpets to suites of red-plush furniture.
''Her memory will be kept green by many who knew her sterling worth,'' the obituary concluded. But her memory, as with the dust of her myriad clients, was well faded until the researchers dug into the history of the proposed construction site, as required by Federal preservation laws. Their report was entered into the archives without fanfare in this city of endless homage and ceremony for the more idealized aspects of Americana.
The archeologists found no mention of Mary Ann Hall in history books. But they uncovered bureaucratic records of her bordello in a day when ''prostitute'' was an accepted occupation in the Federal census. Ms. Hall's house at 349 Maryland Avenue, with 18 ''inmates'' and fine food and furnishings, was rated at the top of the list of 450 brothels catalogued by the Federal Provost Marshal's office in 1862, when the city teemed with transient men, encamped soldiers and an estimated 5,000 prostitutes.
Her house stood out in what was then the city's tenderloin, dubbed ''Louse Alley,'' a canal-laced warren adjacent to the sprawling ''Hooker's Division'' neighborhood -- a popular word-play on Gen. Joseph Hooker, whose Union troops bivouacked on the future Mall and patronized local prostitutes.
In undertaking the assignment to research the construction site for John Milner Associates, historic research specialists, Ms. Seifert and Ms. O'Brien delved into a time when sex and politics seemed to have been a far less public sensation than has lately been the case.
''I thought, what's going on here?'' Ms. Seifert related when Ms. Hall's old garbage dig yielded masses of corks, bottles and broken plates of long-ago revels, giving her the first clue to the human endeavors that had taken place there. By coincidence, she had previously researched the underpinnings of the new Ronald Reagan Building to the west, near the White House, and there, too, found a brothel's remains.
A muckraking book from 1883, ''Mysteries and Miseries of America's Great Cities,'' told of the finest prostitutes being employed by corporate lobbyists to influence legislation. ''The type of house she ran, as well as its proximity to the Capitol, would certainly have made it a possibility,'' the archeological report carefully concluded.
Ms. Hall managed an ''upper-ten'' establishment -- a 19th-century New York term for the very best in private trysting places. Ms. O'Brien diligently searched criminal court records for any charges against Ms. Hall but all she found was mention of an angry defendant demanding to know why the authorities never troubled Ms. Hall's house.
''There's some evidence that women came and left with Congress,'' Ms. Seifert said, suggesting a certain seasonal aspect to the life of democracy. ''It was just treated as part of the way things were,'' she said of the fact of prostitution and the corollary notion of the time ''that men couldn't really be expected to control their sexual appetites.''
In the scandal-weary eyes of modern Washington, there may be particular relief in the fact that the researchers uncovered no profiteering kiss-and-tell narratives about this buried part of Washington's past.
''Mary Ann Hall's brothel was a large and prosperous household that offered material comforts to its inmates and guests and made Hall a wealthy woman,'' the researchers concluded with all the sensibility of the departed madam.
Louse Alley, near Mary Ann Hall's house, early 20th century.
Photograph from Charles F. Weller's 1909 book
Washington’s Civil War madam could keep a secret
THE WASHINGTON POST
By T. Rees Shapiro April 27, 2013
Mary Ann Hall was once among the most rich, popular and powerful women in Civil War Washington. Before she died in 1886 at age 71, she had garnered a nationwide reputation for integrity, charm, and utmost discretion.
Hall was the District’s Civil War madam and a top-dollar prostitute.
Her legacy was lost to history until the mid-1990s, when archaeologists uncovered the remnants of her large home under what is now the National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall.
The scientists discovered what was perhaps the most distinguished and luxurious brothel in the city during the 19th century. The finely appointed establishment stood four blocks south of the Capitol, certainly a convenience for Hall’s elite clientele who worked a short walk away.
“It was first class, easily one of the top 10 brothels in the city,” said Donna J. Seifert, an archaeologist who helped dig up Hall’s home. “It was clearly quite well known.”
The tide of war begins to turn in favor of the Union
What remains not as well known are the particulars of Hall’s life. One fact about Hall, however, was apparent to the archaeologists who excavated the area around her brothel: She loved to serve bottles of champagne to her clients.
Although Hall’s name comes up in census records and newspaper accounts, the details of her life and career were largely forgotten until Seifert and her colleagues came along.
With the support of the Smithsonian Institution, Seifert and her team were dispatched to conduct a survey of the proposed Southwest site of the National Museum of the American Indian.
While digging up the land, they found gilt-edged porcelain, corset fasteners, seeds from exotic berries and coconuts and bones from expensive meats, including turtle. They also found “hundreds” of Piper-Heidsieck champagne corks and wire bales in the midden, or trash heap, buried near Hall’s property.
Single and apparently never married, Hall resided at 349 Maryland Ave. in a three-story brick home starting in the 1840s. There, she ran a business that flourished in Washington for nearly 40 years, especially during the Civil War, when soldiers deploying to battle passed through town.
One count by D.C. officials during the 1860s concluded that there were about 500 “bawdy houses” and nearly 5,000 prostitutes.
Hall’s brothel was ranked by the city’s provost marshal as one of the best and biggest, with a peak of 18 “inmates.”
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“All who were rich and important went to Mary Ann Hall’s,” said Robert S. Pohl, author of the 2012 book “Wicked Capitol Hill.”
An 1864 article in the Washington Evening Star referred to Hall’s business as the “old and well established house” on Maryland Avenue.
The brothel “in question has had — it is no exaggeration to say — a national reputation for the last quarter century,” according to the paper.
Seifert said an inventory of Hall’s home shortly after her death catalogued its opulence. Hall had plush red furniture, carpets from Belgium, oil paintings, feather pillows, marble-topped tables and an icebox. Judging by the quality of the decor, Hall must have had high-profile clients, she said. Moreover, Seifert said, unlike other brothels, Hall’s establishment rarely came under official scrutiny.
“She ran the kind of house that didn’t cause trouble,” Seifert said. “It was a place of serious discretion. She ran a pretty straight business.”
Records indicate that Hall retired in the late 1870s. She later rented her home to a women’s clinic.
“The whole prostitute with a heart of gold — that was pretty much Mary Ann Hall,” Pohl said.
Hall died of a cerebral hemorrhage Jan. 29, 1886, according to her death certificate. Her net worth was about $90,000, equivalent to $2 million in today’s economy.
Her home later served as a YMCA before it was demolished during the 1930s. The Hall’s legacy lives on at Congressional Cemetery on Capitol Hill, where her remains are buried. Her plot is one of the cemetery’s largest, according to cemetery archivist and docent Dayle Dooley.
Hall rests in the northeast section of the cemetery, next to her mother and sister. Their plot is yards from the grave of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.
Hall’s headstone is a large, pale monument with a somber, female figure sitting on top.
Her Evening Star obituary gave no hint of Hall’s profession. But its eloquence reflected the influence she had in Washington’s public and private circles.
“With integrity unquestioned, a heart ever open to appeals of distress, a charity that was boundless, she is gone but her memory will be kept green by many who knew her sterling worth.”
T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter for the Washington Post